Thursday, December 18, 2008

A doctors visit in Korea

So, I caught a cold. Yet another cold. This is the fourth cold I've had since October.. I think that works out to be a cold every other week almost. I don't know if I've ever been so sick so much in my life. Is it the children? Is it the air pollution? Is it the Yellow Dust? Is it living in a city with so many people? Maybe some bad mix of those factors... who knows.

Anyway, every time I get sick, everyone tells me to go to the doctor. Now, this just seems silly to me. Would I ever go to the doctor for a cold at home in the States? Never. Too expencive and too much of a hassle. But, I was feeling so miserable that I finally conceded and went.

In the same building as my school, there is an ear nose and throat doctor. Most doctors offices seem to have specialties here, I don't think people necessarily have a primary physician... or maybe they do.. I'm not sure. Anyway, on my first attempt to go, I brought a Korean friend with me, but when we got there at 2:00 there were about 8 people ahead of me in line. They told me I could put my name in, but I had class in 50 minutes, and I wouldn't be able to wait that long. Luckily, one of my friends offered to teach my second class of the day so that I could try again.

The second time was much more successful. I walked in, the office was empty. All I needed to show was my Alien Registration Card and give them my phone number and address. They shuffled me straight in to see the doctor. There was no assistant asking me 100 questions that have nothing to do with my cold (I think my last physical included questions like: do you wear your seat belt? and do you get enough sleep at night?). I had no Korean with me to translate, but the doctor knew enough English to get by, and I used the little Korean I know for medical stuff. She took my temperature, looked in my ears, nose and throat. She asked me a few questions, and as she asked these questions, she typed in her computer various prescriptions for each of my symptoms.

The best (and incidentally the worst) thing she did for me was give me a nebulizer, since I have asthma and I was having a little trouble breathing. It was a big, strong dose and I could breath wonderfully afterwards. I haven't used one of those machines since I was little. Unfortuantly, My body always has some bad side affects to asthma medication. I get shakes when I take my inhaler, and this was like the shakes x 20 because it was such a high dosage.

After the nebulizer treatment, I went back to the front desk, where the receptionist charged me a whopping 3,500 Won (aprox $2.71 USD) and handed me my typed up perscription to bring to the pharmacy downstairs. I barely made it down the stairs in all my shaking (why didn't I think to take the elevator?) and I went to the pharmacy, which is also in my building. I gave the woman at the pharmacy my perscription, and she had it filled, and placed in little packagaes that I should take for morning, and evening. The grand total for these pills was another 5,200 Won. I sort of feel like I have an aids coctail, since I need to take 6 pills at a time. Mixing all these medicines makes me a little nervous, but so far, I haven't had any problems.

So, in the end, I went to the doctor and the pharmacy and only spent 8,700 won. Even better, is the fact that the whole process took only half an hour: from seeing the doctor, to getting nebulizing treatment, to going to the pharmacy and getting back to my desk at SLP. AMAZING. Why can't our medical system be so good in the U.S.???

Granted, I know this is only one experience, I guess I can't speak for the system as a whole. But really.... I pay very little out of my paycheck, and doctors visits and prescription drugs are so inexpencive. Why can't our medical system be so good in the U.S.???


  1. To answer your first question, it is the children. Kids come to school with every variation of every new bug and pass them to teachers.

    Over the years, you tend to get sick less and less; at least that's been my experience.

    I'm beginning to realize the reason everyone goes to the doctor is exactly because it's so cheap. He can't cure your common cold, but he can relieve your symptoms for less than the cost of a bottle of Advil, er, ibuprofen.

    As a data point, I remember being billed $4.50 for two Tylenol (acetaminophen) tablets by the hospital. In 1983.

    I know it was a rhetorical question, but our medical system cannot be as good in the US. Oh, it can be much better than it is, but remember, you have a total population to deal with of only 50 million people, so the scale is much smaller.

    Psychologically, they seem happy with a bunch of pills, rather than 2 CAT scans and an MRI. Genetically, they are devoid of Tay-Sachs, sickle cell, etc etc. Also, many folks seem to bypass the official health system in favor of traditional cures. Just my three cents (adjusted for inflation).

    Anyway, hope you feel better soon.

  2. I see where you're coming from, but still, this is a city of 11 million. That's bigger than New York City. If everyone went to the doctor every time they got a cold in NYC the lines would be through the door. Are there more doctors here? Or less bureaucracy? I don't get it.

    Then again, their exams are much less thorough. If something was really wrong, I doubt they'd find it. Docs at home are so scared of being sued they will test you for everything under the sun... then tell you it's just a sinus infection or something.

  3. "If something was really wrong, I doubt they'd find it." Yeah. At least, until the little packets of pills ran out and they had to try something else.

    The lawsuit thing is inoperable here, for better or worse, but it doesn't really add to the bill back in the States anyway, despite Bush's scare tactics. Doctors' malprac insurance adds about two cents per dollar to his costs, so it's a moot point anyway.